REVIEW DATE: 05 Oct 2007
Volkswagen's Fox restores the company's reputation for building the people's car. Andy Enright takes a look at the 1.2-litre petrol version
For a company that claimed to build the 'people's car', Volkswagen has certainly been crediting the people with a good deal of disposable income. Its old Lupo citycar was too small and too expensive to make a serious dent in the sales of key rivals and with Group partners Skoda and SEAT to rely upon, it looked for a while that Volkswagen would cede this budget end of the market with a whimper. But they haven't. The Fox is their answer to the accusation that they've lost touch with their younger customers. Here we take a look at the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol models.
Part of Volkswagen's problem has been that these cars are just too expensive to build in a traditional Western European factory. Labour rates and union-mandated employee benefits mean that it's virtually impossible to build a budget model, sell it at a competitive price and still turn a profit. One only has to look at the financial difficulties Smart has found itself in, even when pitching at a relatively premium price and with the financial clout of Daimler Chrysler behind it. The answer has been to increasingly site factories in developing countries in Eastern Europe such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Turkey. Volkswagen goes one better and builds the Fox in Brazil.
Prices start at £6,602 and the Fox is at an immediate competitive advantage. Put simply, there's a heck of a lot of car here for a citycar. Yes, it may only be offered in the three-door body style, but it's a foot longer than a Fiat Panda and utterly dwarfs the likes of the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo triplets that have come to be seen as the new citycar yardsticks. Compared to an entry-level Polo, the Fox is fully £900 cheaper and there's only a couple of inches in it. It's easy to see where the smart money is going.
"The Fox 1.2 is inexpensive, spacious and refreshingly honest"
Those with a little more smart money can opt for a 1.4-litre engine, but the 1.2-litre petrol variant looks set to mop up the lion's share of sales. This 54bhp three-cylinder engine is hardly the last word in sophistication but pause to consider the leathering this engine will get on the backstreets of Sao Paolo and you'll realise it's a resilient little thing that won't let you down. Volkswagen produced a rash of cars in the nineties to which their old advertising strapline 'if only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen' couldn't really be applied. Here's one that will help redress the balance.
The Fox weighs a good deal less than a Polo but brisk performance isn't really on the cards with such a modest powerplant. If you're interested, the Fox 1.2 will reach 60mph from rest in around 17 seconds and will hit a top speed of 92mph, keeping your licence a little safer on motorway journeys. Of more relevance is its rock bottom 1E insurance rating and its fuel economy figure of 46.2mpg on the combined cycle.
Two trim levels are offered. The entry level car is equippoed with power steering, a CD stereo, anti lock brakes and twin airbags. Opt for the pricier £7,202 Urban Fox and Volkswagen also include electric front windows, body coloured bumpers and door mirrors and remote central locking. Sarcoptic mange and foul smelling scat are fortunately not part of the standard price.
Volkswagen have even managed to endow the rear seats with a certain degree of MPV-style flexibility. They fold 50/50 and an option is the capability to slide 15cm back and forth, allowing owners to choose between Golf class rear legroom or genuinely useable luggage space for a family of four. That's a rarity in this class of cars and will act as a significant plus point for family buyers. The rear seat even folds and flips up, revealing a a very useful flat loading area.
After all, many buyers are now expecting more of so-called citycars. A true citycar is a somewhat limiting vehicle, often purchased as a second or third car. The latest crop are a whole lot more versatile and can shrug off longer journeys with insouciant ease. Although the 1.2-litre engine will struggle in the cut and thrust of a modern busy motorway, the Fox is spacious enough to handle longer trips without feeling completely out of its element.
The fascia is cleanly styled with a four-spoke steering wheel and a functional instrument binnacle. This houses a large speedometer with an inset digital display and ancillary warning lights along with dials grouped around the outside. The centre console is of obvious Volkswagen provenance and looks a little outdated compared to some of the slickly designed offerings rivals have come up with. Volkswagen would doubtless claim the Fox offers everything you need in a citycar and nothing you don't, but fashionistas will probably look elsewhere.
The Fox 1.2 is a welcome return to what Volkswagen always did best - decent, inexpensive cars. It may not be flashy or possess the sort of showroom gimmicks that readily turn into signed finance agreements, but it's tough, honest, safe and, importantly, retains a decent representation of Volkswagen's brand values. When I first heard that we were going to be sold a Brazilian 'world car', I feared that Volkswagen were trying to sell us a pup. Instead we've got the Fox. It sets very few benchmarks in the development of the citycar but it does what it sets out to do very well indeed.
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